What is Your Paper, Your Way?
The concept of Your Paper, Your Way1 (hereinafter YPYW) was proposed2 by Sir Kelvin Davies, PhD, DSc, Editor-in-Chief of Free Radical Biology & Medicine in 2011 and it made its way to all Elsevier journals in June 2013. It is an attempt to simplify the publication process and is marketed with the intent of making the process more “author friendly.” It does so by greatly relaxing the formatting requirements, enabling greater focus on only the content while evaluating a submitted paper. The first draft needs to meet no strict formatting requirements, enabling even authors to primarily focus on the content. Although it does greatly succeed in that intent, there is a lot more to it than the altruistic intent of making things easier for the authors, as you will find out when you read on.
What does Your Paper, Your Way change in the field of publication?
Like a singer should not have to know how to dance, an author should not need to be proficient in technical skills of MS Word. Research papers have greatly been about two things until YPYW—how good the content is and how “publication-ready” does the manuscript appear. Although nothing seems wrong about this at the outset, a disproportionate focus on the latter can very well prevent good research from being accepted. YPYW throws the latter out of a figurative window and brings the former at the center (and everywhere else, as it is the only thing that matters for first evaluation). As YPYW allows for the submission of an entire manuscript in a single *.docx or *.pdf file, the process is more convenient compared to many journals that require the Abstract, the title page, and the artwork separately submitted. Besides this, since the manuscript is now evaluated for fewer criteria, the publication process is much faster. Whether the paper is accepted or rejected, the authors know of the verdict much sooner than they would with the conventional process.
How does Your Paper, Your Way benefit authors?
As mentioned above, researchers should be evaluated for academic proficiency and should not feel “compelled” to learn something they do not have to know. According to Elsevier, “92% of authors surveyed found YPYW easy or extremely easy, compared to 61% of authors who used the traditional process.” With the initial submission being evaluated ONLY based on the content quality in YPYW, this levels the playing field for researchers having inadequate proficiency with using MS Office tools. MedicalWriters3 lists “incorrect formatting” as one of the top five reasons for manuscript rejection. With YPYW, this reason is greatly neutralized, albeit not completely.
How does Your Paper, Your Way benefit the journal?
Although YPYW is greatly marketed as an “author-focused” initiative, which it is in the most part, there is more to the story. What are the reasons why more journals, even many non-Elsevier journals, are increasingly adopting this style? I assure you it is not pure altruism on the part of the journal. Below, I briefly describe how YPYW benefits the journals.
- More submissions: Let’s work with the established fact that most journals charge a hefty sum as a submission fee. Now, authors who have limited access to or knowledge of using MS Word for complicated formatting requirements are expected to make sure that their lack of technical proficiency is not a factor in manuscript rejection. There are parts of the world where the submission fee is even greater than the average monthly wage of a scientist, and research funding is more or less absent, inadequate, or indefinitely delayed; in such cases, if the authors are spending their own money for submission, it makes probabilistic sense for them to select a journal which does not have their weakness—improper formatting—as a criteria for rejection. This makes many authors gravitate toward YPYW journals, consequently increasing submissions to such journals and making the YPYW concept a real money maker but not for wrong reasons.
- One review – and that’s it. In journals with strict formatting requirements, the reviewers often have to go through a single paper multiple times because of returns and revision requests to meet the formatting requirements. For a journal, this is somewhat “redundant” work done by an employee as there is generally no monetary gain associated with reviewing the returned manuscripts; they would rather have their reviewers look at fresh manuscripts which actually bring money to the journal. This increases the number of fresh manuscripts reviewed over any given period of time, thus making more money for the journal.
- The two points above: It is important to talk of them together as they make YPYW seem like a sheer “common sense-oriented” decision, business-wise that is. More incoming papers and minimal time spent on a non-money-making process clearly scream how much business is at the center of research in current times. I am not complaining though as the win of YPYW does not seem to be any author’s loss to me.
What can go wrong for authors while submitting to Your Paper, Your Way journals?
As an academic editor, I am generally elated when I get a paper for editing that is being sent to a YPYW journal. This is because I know that I would have to spare “little” time for formatting. I say “little” but not “no” for a huge reason. Although there are no strict guidelines that a paper needs to be in agreement with, it has to still be what I can best describe as a “disciplined effort.” There should be internal consistency in the formatting aspects, be it in-text references, reference list, line spacing, pagination, etc. Using mixed styles, e.g., inconsistent number of author names before using “et al” in the reference list, inconsistent/mixed use of “&” vs. “and” in two-author papers in the end list and/or in-text references, and inconsistent/mixed use of square brackets, parenthesis, and superscripts to depict in-text references for Vancouver style adherence are ALL discouraged. Although there is no template to follow for these aspects, internal consistency is a must. Thus, despite the journal supporting YPYW, authors should not send in a “shabby” paper by any measure.
What do the reviewers think about Your Paper, Your Way?
Although we have established that YPYW brings great changes from the journal and author perspectives, reviewers are the least affected [check “Feedback from reviewers” section]4 by this change. However, it has to be kept in mind that the people reviewing your papers after your journal started supporting YPYW are the same as those who did it before. Thus, they are used to seeing near-perfect papers from a formatting point of view (all Times New Roman or Arial, double-spaced, 12 pt. font), even at the first submission many a times. Thus, as they have been doing this for years, they may feel “inconvenienced” when a paper comes to them which appears different somehow (10 pt. single-spaced, let’s say). Although it is not likely to influence their overall objective verdict of the paper, it is considered wise if the authors send in a properly presented manuscript for the review. My advice to the authors, always use the above mentioned combination in underline and italics; it is still widely the gold standard of how a paper is “expected” to look like.
My two cents on Your Paper, Your Way
So, if given a choice between a YPYW and a non-YPYW journal, should an author preferably submit a well-prepared manuscript to YPYW? The answer is that this is NOT a deciding factor for choosing a journal. If your manuscript is well-prepared, then find the best journal for it based on the impact factor, visibility, how often it publishes content related to your topic, etc. These are always the priority factors to consider. If your paper is not prepared well in terms of formatting, you may go for a YPYW journal if it meets the abovementioned criteria; if you cannot find such a journal, seek professional editing and send it to a journal that best showcases your work to the world.
Although there has been a lot of debate on how good or not YPYW is for the academia, I am personally inclined in its favor. Because although this changes a lot for the industry, it does not bring a compromise to how robust the content evaluation process should be and it does not force the reviewers to accept more articles for business benefit. The academic decision-making factors have been left untouched and robust and the decision makers are the same as before, and among all the things Elsevier has changed, for me, the beauty of YPYW lies in what they chose to keep intact, which is the “no-compromise” approach on the quality of research accepted.
- Your paper your way [Internet]. Elsevier.com. 2018 [cited 1 November 2018]. Available from: https://www.elsevier.com/en-in/authors/journal-authors/your-paper-your-way
- Davies K. [Internet]. Elsevierscitech.com. 2018 [cited 1 November 2018]. Available from: http://www.elsevierscitech.com/dronsite/FRB_10666_1.pdf
- Waaga F. The top 5 reasons manuscripts get rejected – and how you can prevent them » Medicalwriters.com [Internet]. Medicalwriters.com. 2018 [cited 1 November 2018]. Available from: https://www.medicalwriters.com/rejected-manuscript-five-top-reasons-why-it-happened-and-advice-how-to-prevent-this/
- Fennell C, Gill D. Your Paper, Your Way – now available to all journals [Internet]. Elsevier.com. 2018 [cited 1 November 2018]. Available from: https://www.elsevier.com/editors-update/story/author-support/your-paper,-your-way-now-available-to-all-journals